The Ultimate Shopping List for a Low-Sugar Kitchen
Sugar seems like Public Enemy No. 1 right now, but avoiding it remains an uphill battle. It’s in so much of our food, and nutritional labels don’t include recommend daily allowances for sugar content. Plus, even “healthy” foods like your favorite breakfast bar tend to be loaded with natural sugar derivatives like brown rice syrup, honey, and maple syrup.
But you can escape this sticky situation. It starts with making a smart shopping list and outfitting your pantry with the staples necessary to prepare super delicious, low-sugar meals. Here are some of my go-to ingredients for avoiding added sugar while ensuring there’s delicious food available at all times:
You should always have eggs on hand. They’re quick to cook and can be whipped up in less time than it takes to check your Instagram. Plus, starting out with a protein-and fiber-rich plate of scrambled eggs and veggies is a great way to curb your sugar cravings as the day goes on. If making breakfast from scratch every morning is a struggle, try making a batch of frittata bites over the weekend to reheat on the go.
Whole fruit can satisfy your sweet tooth without sending your insulin levels into a tizzy. A glass of juice — which is devoid of fiber — will hit your bloodstream like a sugar bomb. But whole fruit gets processed and absorbed more slowly. I like buying frozen blueberries (which are naturally lower in sugar than many other fruits) so that I always have something on hand for last-minute breakfasts. You can stir a handful of them into whole-grain oatmeal or a smoothie. You can even blend frozen berries with a frozen banana to create your own low-sugar vegan ice cream!
Canned whole tomatoes
Making pasta sauce from scratch is a great way to avoid added sugar, as most store-bought brands sneak it into theirs. And it couldn’t be easier. Take canned whole tomatoes, break them apart with your hands or in a food processor, put them in a saucepan with some lightly browned garlic and a sprig of basil, and simmer away for 20 minutes. Make a big batch and freeze individual portions for later.
Load up on almonds, peanuts, cashews, and other nuts from the bulk bins at your market. Bulk nuts are usually in their natural, raw form, so you won’t be tempted by anything honey-roasted. It’s also cheaper to buy in bulk, and then store the nuts in your own airtight containers at home.
Not only do nuts add lots of healthy fat and fiber to your meals, which is essential for regulating blood sugar, but you can also make your own nut butters from scratch using a food processor. Say goodbye to all of that sugar in your old jar of Skippy!
My favorite natural sweetener is honey. It contains plenty of antioxidants, enzymes, and minerals that can soothe the gut and provide nutrients. Plus, honey is lower in fructose than agave. Buying raw, unrefined honey ensures that you’re getting the full breadth of these health benefits. It may be more expensive than regular honey — all the more reason to use it sparingly!
Some flavored yogurts have more sugar per ounce than a can of soda. Buying plain yogurt lets you control the sweetness levels yourself by adding raw honey or berries. If you do want a grab-and-go sweetened yogurt, choose a brand like Siggi’s that is committed to lower sugar content.
Hemp and chia seeds
Like raw nuts, these super seeds pack a big fiber punch. Hemp seeds are great for sprinkling on salads or mixing into sweeter breakfast items like yogurt, smoothies, and oatmeal. Chia seeds are the basis for a great make-ahead breakfast in and of themselves: Combine them with nut milk and whole fruit, and let the mixture sit overnight until it reaches a pudding-like consistency.
If you want to avoid the added sugar in regular sandwich bread, try using whole collard green leaves as wraps. You’ll enjoy a healthy, plant-based lunch instead of extra carbs — and packing your own lunch is a smart way to avoid added sugar outside the home anyway.
Cacao nibs or 70 percent dark chocolate
When you’re first cutting back on sugar, it’s important to take baby steps and allow yourself some treats. Nutrient-rich cacao nibs are a great way to add a hint of chocolatey goodness to a smoothie. Call it a healthy “milk shake” and have one for dessert! Dark chocolate has a bit more sugar than raw cacao but is still nice to keep in the fridge for restrained snacking. Be sure to buy bars that are at least 70 percent cacao.
A lot of the sugar in people’s diets comes from drinks, not food. Even some “healthy” beverages like coconut water have more sugar than a sports drink. If you’re not big on plain water and need a little flavor to foster a hydration habit, try adding fresh lemon juice to your drinks. It tastes great, and fresh lemon juice helps flush toxins from your liver. It’s basically the anti-sugar in terms of what it does for your body! Stir in a little raw honey, and you’ve turned lemons into low-sugar lemonade.
Phoebe Lapine is a food and health writer, gluten-free chef, wellness personality, culinary instructor, and speaker based in New York. She has a B.A. from Brown University, but but was born and raised in New York City. On her award-winning blog, Feed Me Phoebe, she shares recipes for healthy comfort food and insights about balanced lifestyle choices beyond what’s on your plate. Lapine's forthcoming memoir, The Wellness Project, chronicles her journey with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and how she finally found the middle ground between health and hedonism by making one lifestyle change, one month at a time. Connect with her on Instagram and Facebook for more creative clean recipes and inspiration.